I was reading the lessons in one of my prayer books (a Roman Catholic one) for the sixteenth week in ordinary time. The homily for Sunday was from St. John Chrysostrom on Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He is commenting on 2 Cor. 6:1-7:1, specifically verse 11, “Our heart is wide open to you" (verse 11, NRSV) and two verses later, Paul admonishes the difficult congregation, “Open wide your hearts also.” Chrysostrom writes: “Our heart is enlarged. For as heart makes things expand, so it is the work of love to expand the heart.... There was nothing more capacious than the heart of Paul... his love not being divided and lessened but remaining whole and entire for each of [the faithful]. And what marvel is it that his love for the faithful was such, since his heart embraced the unbelievers, too, throughout the whole world.”(1)
An enlarged heart is a serious medical condition: a popular syndicated radio host, David “Kidd” Kraddick, recently died because of an enlarged heart and blocked arteries, according to a preliminary autopsy. Perhaps we should stick with the metaphor “big hearted” when we’re talking about people’s love. But I still like the idea of “the work of love” as a heart-expanding thing. Picture love as something that makes your heart bigger and roomier, as a builder would make your home larger and more open.
One of my devotional guides (Living Faith) had a piece this past Sunday about Abraham, specifically his intersections for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. It reminded me of something else I once read: although Noah was chosen by God to build the ark, Abraham was chosen by God to begin God’s people. That’s because Abraham had compassion, as seen in his audacious and persistent intercession for the people of the cities, whereas Noah expresses no such intercession for the people about to be wiped out in the Flood. Noah was faithful to God, but somehow his heart wasn't as big as Abraham's.
Like Paul, Abraham had a very big heart. How many times have I heard Christians make dismissive comments about other people who, they think, are undeserving of care and concern. “Those people aren’t my problem,” “those people are just lazy and get what they deserve,” and so on. I, too, make ugly comments (in private, but still) concerning people who, sometimes for trivial reasons, have gotten on my bad side.
But God wants us to be big-hearted. Love expands our metaphorical hearts, makes them capacious, providing room there for all kinds of people, creating forgiveness and generosity and affection for even very difficult folk. We're not as prone to put down others if they're not as liberal or as conservative as we are. If we’re not big-hearted, we can’t truthfully say we love God, but if our hearts are expanding, we're growing as God desires (1 John 4:7-21).
1. The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. III, Ordinary Time Weeks 1-17 (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1975), 539.